We walk in the dark for an hour, on a narrow trail that winds its way along giant corn fields, before a steep ascent through a semi-tropical forest. We reach the peak just before the break of dawn. And sit in awe around a ceremonial fire, as the giant volcanoes emerge from the mist, with the first rays of the sun.
This mountain-top altar has been used by the Mayan people to conduct sacred fire ceremonies for millennia. And yet, today, the flames light up three white faces, under the astonished gaze of the site’s local guardian, whose sole purpose is to extract an improvised fee from visitors.
A lot has been written about the Maya, especially a few years ago, when 2012 end-of-the-world prophecies spread like wildfire across social media. Soon to be forgotten thereafter, or re-ignited by those with an appetite for ancient proof of our imminent demise.
But what about the present-day descendants of the Maya people? What is their interpretation and relationship to the rites of their ancestors? What do they think of our cultural appropriation?
Interestingly enough, at a time when spiritual tourism and romantic interpretations of ancient traditions have become popular, the reality on the ground is often not as it may seem.
One would think that young people here are cradled in the culture of their ancestors, a culture that has somehow survived disasters and invasions of all sorts. That they would be taught the spiritual principles that marked the rhythms of their communities many centuries ago.
But the opposite is the norm. Strikingly enough, in this remote village lying at the heartland of the Mayan world, the most prominent feature is not the pride with which young people uphold their spiritual heritage. It is… the churches.
Instead of communing with the energy of the fire, most people awake to the sound of exaggerated ecstatic sermons accompanied by off-pitch music blasted across town… Churches of all denominations seem to have taken over every street corner. There are no less than two dozen churches in this village alone, for a population of only a few thousand inhabitants.
In this context, a young Mayan who wishes to become a spiritual leader, in the tradition of the Ajq’iq of his or her ancestors, is not only discouraged, but downright vilified. Following that path means being accused of having made a pact with the demon, exposed to the ridicule of your friends, and ostracized from your own family.
Yes, this is 2016.
Perhaps the Mayans were right. 2012 marked not the end of the world – as was wrongly interpreted – but the end of a cycle. We are at a crossroads, the time between time. The limbo zone where we are given a choice.
For an end is certainly urgent and necessary. But not the end of the world. Rather, the end of all limited ideologies that separate us from each other. The end of all belief systems that alienate us from life on the planet and justify our egotistical, destructive compulsions.
In this time between times, we can still learn. We can take responsibility. We can make a choice. And the power of ancient rituals can open us up to an experience of life that is limitless and whole.
The choice is yours. Which path will you take?